There’s nowhere on earth quite like the Italian Lakes. Whether it’s soaking up the fairy-tale ambiance of the crystal-clear waters, enjoying the finest Italian food, exploring historic towns, or simply luxuriating in the peaceful ambiance of lakeside living while enjoying aperitivo hour with a glass of crisp, local white wine. Visiting the Italian Lakes is simply the epitome of ‘la dolce vita’!

From the glamour of Lake Como to the sophistication of Lake Maggiore, the tranquil Lake Orta, or the livelier Lake Garda, each lake offers something different. Plus, with their convenient proximity to iconic cities such as Verona, Venice, and Milan, the Italian Lakes provide the perfect opportunity to combine your trip with a city break and immerse yourself in some of the best of Italy’s landscapes, cuisine, and culture all in one holiday.

In our latest travel guide, you can get the lowdown on the Italian Lakes with a quick overview of what to expect before we dive deeper into the unique offerings of each lake. As always, if you’d like any help planning your Italian Lakes adventure, please get in touch with our travel experts.


The Italian Lakes in a nutshell:

Lake Como: The vibe: Timeless, upscale, romantic and luxurious – a popular celeb spot.
Highlights: High end hotels, fine dining and picturesque villages such as Bellagio.

Lake Maggiore: The vibe: Tranquillity and sophistication – a lovely blend of Italian and Swiss cultures.
Highlights: The Borromean Islands, waterfront promenades, historic villas and lakeside towns such as Stresa and Verbania.

Lake Garda: The vibe: Family-friendly mix of adventure, relaxation, and historical charm.
Highlights: Water sports on the lake, theme park, and stunning towns such as Riva del Garda.

Lake Orta: The vibe: Small, peaceful, relaxed and serene – a hidden gem amongst the lakes.
Highlights: Tranquillity, the enchanting Isola San Giulio, and medieval village of Orta San Giulio.

Lake Iseo: The vibe: Tranquil and authentic, less crowded than the larger lakes.
Highlights: Unspoiled beauty, the unique car-free island of Monte Isola and the local vineyards producing Franciacorta wine.


The Italian Lakes in detail:

Lake Como: Glamour & Natural Beauty

Lake Como has long been a playground for the rich and famous, attracting celebrities such as George Clooney, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Sinatra to name but a few. The lake’s allure lies in its combination of glamorous mansions, stylish Michelin-starred restaurants, and charming cobblestone villages with pastel-coloured buildings. Its close proximity to Milan also means that it’s a hotspot for the wealthy Milan set.

In the city of Como itself, there are a variety of attractions and activities to explore. Highlights include the funicular railway, known as the Funicolare Como-Brunate, which is located near the waterfront area of Como. The funicular ascends from Como to the hilltop village of Brunate, offering stunning panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding mountains en route. Other highlights of the city include the stunning Como Cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic and Renaissance architecture; the charming Old Town which is a great place to take a stroll amidst the medieval and Renaissance architecture; and the lakeside promenade.

Bellagio, known as the Pearl of the Lake sits at the intersection of the lake’s three branches. Some of the most impressive and iconic views in Bellagio can be found at Punta Spartivento which showcases the lake’s unique Y-shape and the majestic Alps in the background. Make sure you visit Villa Melzi with its English gardens, take a wander around Bellagio’s narrow cobblestone streets and high-end boutiques, and enjoy fine dining at one of the lakefront restaurants. The village also serves as an excellent base for boating and water activities on the lake.

Lenno, on Lake Como’s western shore, is home to the renowned Villa del Balbianello, famous for its terraced gardens and film appearances in Star Wars and James Bond. Varenna, on the eastern shore offers colourful houses, cobblestone streets, and a scenic lakeside promenade. You’ll also find Villa Monastero which boasts a beautiful botanical garden and the historic Castello di Vezio, offering panoramic views and medieval exhibitions.


Lake Maggiore: Culture & Sophistication

The stately and serene Lake Maggiore stretches across 170 km of coastline, spanning the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, with a small section of the lake extending into Switzerland. It offers a lovely blend of Italian and Swiss cultures with peaceful towns to explore and relax in.

Lake Maggiore is generally less crowded than Lake Como, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a quieter retreat. The towns and villages that dot the shores around the lake enjoy a laid-back atmosphere, and its shores are home to grand palaces, lush gardens, and picturesque islands.

No visit to Lake Maggiore would be complete without exploring the beautiful Borromean Islands: Isola Bella, Isola Madre, and Isola Superiore. There are plenty of boat trips to the island that depart from Stresa and other towns around Lake Maggiore, however, for a more personalised experience, you could hop on a private boat, allowing you to explore the islands at your own pace. Each island is best explored on foot, and the island of Isola Bella is home to a stunning baroque palace surrounded by meticulously manicured gardens. Isola Madre boasts an exquisite botanical garden showcasing a diverse array of plant species. And finally, Isola Superiore offers charming fishing villages and a taste of authentic village life.

In Stresa itself, don’t miss the opportunity to ascend Monte Mottarone via cable car. At about 1500 meters above sea level, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Lake Maggiore and its neighbour, Lake Orta.

The western shore of Lake Maggiore also boasts charming towns and villages. Wander through the historic streets of Locarno or stroll along the scenic waterfront promenades of Verbania. Meanwhile, if you’re looking to head into nature, there are plenty of places to explore around the lake, whether you’re discovering hidden waterfalls or simply basking in the peacefulness of the lake.


Lake Garda: Family Fun & Historical Charm

Lake Garda, the largest of the Italian Lakes, is nestled between Brescia and Verona, at the foot of the Alps, boasting nearly 100 miles of shoreline to explore and a plethora of charming towns to enjoy.

One of the best ways to experience Lake Garda is by ferry-hopping between its delightful villages. This allows you to admire the scenic beauty of the lake from a unique perspective, whether you’re sailing past olive groves or floating alongside historic buildings.

One highlight of the region is the town of Riva del Garda, situated at the northern tip of the lake amidst the stunning scenery of the Italian Alps. Besides offering stunning views of the lake with Monte Rochetta providing a dramatic backdrop, this picturesque town also offers a variety of outdoor activities, including sailing and windsurfing. Explore the town’s landmarks, such as Torre Apponale, a 13th-century clock tower, and Palazzo Pretorio, a medieval building in the Piazza III Novembre square.

Venturing just outside of the town, you’ll find the beautiful Varone waterfalls and the serene Lago di Tenno, a small turquoise lake perfect for swimming. There are also plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures such as rock climbing, mountain biking and guided nature walks.

Other notable towns around Lake Garda include Malcesine, known for its Castello Scaligero and cable car journey to the top of Monte Baldo; Limone sul Garda, perched on cliffs overlooking the lake with its lemon groves and Mediterranean ambiance; and Sirmione, situated on a picturesque peninsula known for its thermal baths, medieval castle, and cobblestone streets.

Bardolino is another notable town where wine lovers will enjoy exploring the local wine production, sampling the acclaimed Bardolino wines at vineyards before taking a stroll along the colourful streets and scenic waterfront. Peschiera del Garda, at the southern tip of the lake, boasts a unique setting surrounded by water on three sides, while Garda, named after the lake itself, offers an abundance of medieval charm with elegant architecture and beautifully landscaped gardens, such as those found at Villa Albertini.

On the southern shores of the lake lies Gardaland, Italy’s largest theme park, a must-visit for families. Spread across 60 hectares, it offers roller coasters, rides, themed areas, live shows, and nightly firework displays.


Lake Orta: Peacefulness & Serenity

Nestled in the north-eastern corner of Piedmont, next to Lake Maggiore, lies Lake Orta. Sometimes overshadowed by its larger neighbouring lakes, it is in no way less appealing. Around the lake itself, you’ll find forests and rocky hills. It’s a great place for leisurely walks or for dining in a lakeside restaurant. The lake’s waters are also perfect for kayaking and swimming.

The main town in the region is Orta San Giulio, which boasts Piazza Motta, the town’s bustling central square that hosts a regular market and is lined with trattorias and cafes for you to grab a coffee and sit and watch the world go by. Strolling around the town, you’ll get a real taste of Italy, with narrow cobbled streets, cascading blooms of bougainvillea, and colourful buildings. One of the main landmarks is the 16th-century town hall – Palazzo della Comunità. Also nearby is the Sacro Monte di Orta, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with chapels and statues depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.

The Piazza Motta also serves as the hub for boat trips around Lake Orta. One of the must-do boat trips is to the island of Isola San Giulio. This small, car-free island is ideal for exploration on foot, perfect for strolls along the pathways and taking in the views of Lake Orta. The centrepiece of the island is the stunning Basilica di San Giulio, a Romanesque church with intricate frescoes.


Lake Iseo: Tranquillity & Authenticity

Lake Iseo, situated between Lake Como and Lake Garda, is possibly Italy’s best-kept secret. While it may be less well known than its glamorous counterparts, its serene beauty, charming villages, and picturesque landscapes offer an authentic Italian experience.

A highlight of the lake is a visit to Monte Isola, the largest inhabited island in the European lakes. Accessible by ferry or boat, the island boasts a blend of narrow alleys adorned with flowers, and the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Ceriola, offering panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

Another must-visit is Lovere, once listed as one of ‘The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy’. Explore the history within the town’s centre with its elegant buildings, charming squares, and cafes providing the perfect spot to enjoy a gelato while admiring the lake views. Other nearby towns to visit include Sarnico and Pisogne, where you can stroll along the lakefront promenades, stop at numerous cafes and restaurants, and soak up the atmosphere of the tranquil waters and surrounding mountains.

The region surrounding Lake Iseo, particularly to the south of the lake, is renowned for its production of Franciacorta wine, a sparkling wine. Many wineries in the region offer guided tours of their vineyards, providing insights into the art of winemaking and offering wine tastings.


Combining the Italian Lakes with City Breaks: Verona, Venice & Milan

A visit to the Italian Lakes offers the ideal opportunity to pair your retreat with the vibrant charm of one of the nearby cities. Some of the most popular cities to combine with a multi-centre holiday to the Italian Lakes include Verona, Venice, and Milan – but of course, anything is possible!

Verona: Renowned as the legendary setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Verona boasts a stunning blend of medieval, roman and renaissance architecture. A visit to Verona wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the famed Casa di Giulietta, where Juliet’s balcony stands next to a statue of the tragic heroine. Other ‘musts sees’ include the Arena, a meticulously preserved Roman amphitheatre which hosts world-class performance plus the Castel San Pietro and Lamberti tower – both of which will reward you with fabulous views of the city.

Venice: With its intricate network of waterways, Venice is one of the most iconic and romantic cities in the world. Wandering through its pedestrian-friendly streets you’ll come across landmarks such as the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto Bridge, the bustling St. Mark’s Square, and the magnificent Palazzo Ducale. For an unforgettable experience, glide through the canals on a gondola with your loved one. Art lovers will enjoy the contemporary art at the Guggenheim Museum, housed in Peggy Guggenheim’s former home.

Milan: Milan is a bustling, super-stylish metropolis that is home to prestigious fashion houses and historic landmarks such as the magnificent Gothic Duomo di Milano. Along with the cathedral, another highlight is the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent which houses ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci, or simply admire the Duomo from one of the cafes or bars surrounding the Piazza del Duomo.

The Italian Lakes embody everything we love about travel – natural beauty, cultural richness, great food and a sense of authenticity. If you’d like to find out more and start planning your trip today, please get in touch.

Kelly Bennett Personal Travel Consultant

Kelly joined the eShores team in 2021, but started working in travel in 1999 so brings with her decades of experience. She has travelled extensively, so has plenty of first-hand knowledge too. She’s explored much of Europe, has visited places as far flung as Australia, but her firm favourite is the USA where she’s spent time living.